I wanted to write to you about my recent experience with the US shortage of semi-automatic rifles, full-capacity magazines, and .223 ammo.
I am relatively new prepper. So far, we’ve got the bug-out bags, the bug-out bins, the emergency plans, the food and water, some other stuff, and a start on guns and ammo. As of last week, I had my 9mm Glock, a 12 gauge Remington 870 shotgun, various pellet guns (and ~2500 rounds of various ammo). I had been thinking of my next gun purchase, and leaning toward the Ruger 10/22 takedown model. That would have gotten me up to minimal firearm preparedness: a rifle, a pistol, and a shotgun.
Then came the Sandy Hook tragedy. And a renewed discussion on gun control (pushed relentlessly by the media). And the possibility of a ban on so-called assault rifles (we know that term is much-debated elsewhere, so I will not discuss its meanings/implications here). And I began to worry about the availability of semi-automatic rifles.
A good semi-auto defensive rifle has always been on my list of intended firearm purchases. However, it was way down on my list. But my worry about availability just got it promoted to the top.
A week ago last Sunday, I was checking the news, and seeing more and more articles about congressmen (and women) planning to re-introduce the ban on assault rifles and so-called full-capacity magazines (more than 10 rounds!). Then the president announced that he would speak to the country later that night. I began to worry that he was going to alarm the purchasing public, and there would be a run on guns, mags, and ammo.
Fortunately, I had been researching different ARs, and had my eye on the Smith & Wesson M&P 15 Sport, as a good quality, relatively inexpensive, entry-level semi-auto rifle. So, around 5 pm that Sunday afternoon, I called the large sporting goods store (about 10 miles away) and asked if they had any in-stock. They had two; I asked them to put one on hold for me, and they agreed to hold it until closing time (7 pm). My wife had been out that afternoon – when she walked in the door at 5:30, I informed her that I was going out for an emergency shopping run, and off I went.
The store was busy (probably due to Christmas shopping), but the gun counter was very busy. There were about 5 employees manning the counter, and about 30 people waiting to look at guns. Lots of people were getting background checked, standing in line at the register, and walking away with those long, flat cardboard boxes. And the long-gun displays were starting to show bare spots.
Finally, my turn came, and the clerk fetched my box from the back. The rifle looked gun, felt good, and seemed as advertised. Sticker price was $ 1,050, and by God’s providence, I could afford it. I told him I would take it. It came with one magazine. I asked about extra magazines: they were all out. I asked about .223 ammo: they were all out. Okay. On the way out, I grabbed some full-capacity magazines for my 9 mm. Then, I exercised my credit card and I was out the door, with a piece of fancy metal and some empty plastic magazines. Back at home, they went into the gun safe, and I felt pretty good about front-running the surging demand for these guns.
The week kept me busy, and I didn’t have a chance to look for magazines and ammo until Thursday. I called several large sporting goods stores in the area. No one had any AR-15 magazines or .223 ammo, and none had any estimate on when they would get restocked. It was time to expand my shopping horizon. A Google search informed me that there were three local gun shops in our area.
By now, I was somewhat panicky. Would I be able to find anything? Would there be a continuous shortage on mags and ammo until a gun control bill is passed? Would I be stuck with my fancy rifle, and nothing to shoot? Back on the phone, I talked with the owner of gun shop number one: he was out of AR mags and .223 ammo: no estimate for restocking.
Over the phone, a clerk at gun shop number two claimed to have .223 ammo, so I was out the door again, and in 20 minutes, I was visiting a tiny little cinder block gun shop with huge bars over all the windows, and more guns per square foot than I had ever seen. The very surly owner had 11 boxes of Federal .223 for $ 20 each – I told him that I would take them all. I asked about AR mags, and he just laughed and told that he was “not selling them.” Okay. With another plastic swipe and signature, I was off to gun shop number three.
Gun shop number three was in a tiny strip mall, and at 6 pm, it was the only store still open in the plaza. What was amazing was the number of cars in the parking lot and the number of people in the store. The store was about 20 feet wide and 50 feet deep, and had about 20 customers either at the gun counter or scouring the remains on the racks and the shelves. About a dozen other customers were outside the store, talking on the sidewalk. All around the store, were printouts telling customers about purchase limits on magazines and ammunition. No AR magazines were left. But, there was a small stock of .223 ‘varmint’ ammo at $ 13 each. So I took ten (the maximum allowed number) of the boxes, up to the counter.
The shop owner and his three clerks, were doing their best to serve the high demand, but the stress and strain were evident in their manner. At the counter, several customers were looking at guns, and the owner was very blunt with them, saying: “If you think you want this gun, then you should buy it now, because if you wait and come back later, it’s going to be gone.” The owner was also talking about the price increases from his suppliers. Talking about buying an AR, the owner said that, over the course of the week, his price had gone up “$ 100, then $ 300, then $ 500.” At first, I thought that he was talking about a cumulative price increase, then he clarified: “now I’m paying $ 900 more for this gun, than I was paying last week.” The owner also said that people were buying guns, just to get the magazine(s) that come with the guns. Wow. I made my ammo purchase and I was out the door.
So far, no luck in finding extra magazines. From what I hear, all stores in my area are out of ARs, AR magazines, and AR ammo.
So, maybe this letter gives an example of one story in this situation. But, I think that it also gives some lessons for preppers, in their purchase of firearms.
First, consider availability issues, when determining priorities about the purchase of firearms. Second, don’t expect to count on the ability to purchase full-capacity magazines at a gun-show or from a private seller. As I understand it, the proposed ban on full-capacity magazines (more than 10 rounds!) will make it illegal to transfer (i.e. purchase) such magazines. Third, even if you’re still working up to a firearms purchase, it pays to do your research, so that you know what you want when an opportunity (or necessity) presents itself. Fourth, learn about gun shops other than your local big-box stores. The big-box stores seem to run out of stock first, and (at least some of them) seem to be vulnerable to pressure to limit sales of certain firearm items. Fifth, where possible, try to build relationships with gun shop owners (and other firearm suppliers). The owners I recently met were reasonably courteous to me (as a new customer) but they certainly didn’t go out of their way to help me. Sixth, in your preparedness efforts, think about how to stay in front of the herd, when it comes to purchases. In your hour of need, you don’t want to be at the store with a hundred other people, competing to pay huge upcharges on scraps – you want to be at home or at your retreat, planning your next step in preparedness.
Let’s hope that supply and demand get back to normal in the near future, so we have a chance to make those purchases that we’ve been putting off.
Best Regards, – Chuck W.